“It’s kinda like a clock, if a clock told you when you happened to be, rather than when it was.”
“Sorry, what?” I looked at him, my brow furrowed. My lips moving slightly as I repeated the phrase.
“You’ve been wondering about it. Among other secrets. This is probably the easiest to share.” He held the chain between both hands, and extended on hand towards me. The end he extended had the roughest links, from what I could see. “This end, this is the beginning, so it makes sense to start here.”
He shifted his body, bringing the other hand towards me, showing me the end of the chain where the links weren’t all metal. At least one of them appeared to be some sort of plastic. “This end, this is now.”
“I’m not following.”
“No, it isn’t in your nature. I think it might be what I like about you. Anyone else, in this situation, they’d had expectations.”
“Expectations?” I cocked an eyebrow at this. “Are we getting some crossed signals here? I get that you don’t have the same hang ups and bullshit about gender that I do, but I didn’t think you’d think we were going that way.”
He laughed, warm and wide. “No, that wasn’t where I was going. Though I don’t see why you’re so opposed to it. I can’t understand why you would fear intimacy so much. Especially after that long alone, and this long together.”
I shook my head, smiling back at him. “I don’t see together the way you do. And it wasn’t that long.”
“The time you were alone, or the time…”
“The time alone.” My voice felt flat and heavy, memories trying to push their way back into the forefront. Closing my eyes, I focused and forced them back. “And the time since, it’s been nice. But I don’t see how we’d fit.”
“That, I could show you. But this path wasn’t the one I intended to wander down. I wasn’t looking at the future, I was trying to share the past.” As he said it, he extended the chain towards me, the rougher end again. Sliding his hand back towards the middle, he stopped on a particular link. “This one, was the first one, part of chains that bound me. My first time being taken. They’d come for me one night, too many to fight. Pinned down, they’d shackled me. It was a dark night.”
“Why would they?” I think my eyes went wide at his words.
“Do the reasons really matter? It was long ago, they’ve long since turned to dust. They aren’t even memories any more, outside my own skull.”
“That’s a little dark. Somehow appropriate though.”
“Only you…” He studied my face, his expression a mix of confusion and annoyance. Granite, before it broke into something softer.
“Yea, I think we covered that,” a deep breath in, puffing out my chest. “Only me. Exclusively me, in all your travels, able to actually put up with you and your…” there was a pause. “quirks.”
A deep sigh, the rolling of his eyes. “This link, was from those shackles. These ones below it, came from later.” He slid his hands further down the chain. Finding a particular joint, he rubbed it between his fingers. “Around here, is where I got lost.”
“Aren’t you always lost? Isn’t that how this whole thing started?”
“A different kind of lost. This was when time wasn’t, at least not for me.”
“Time wasn’t? The hell kind of phrase is that? What, you mean you lost track of it?”
“I think in a way, it lost track of me. It started with something I mistook for madness, initially. The days didn’t follow each other. I was seeing things leap forward, randomly. Friends told me I’d disappeared for days at a time.”
“Alright.” A long pause. “Assuming I’m following you on this, how do you know it wasn’t madness, or memory loss, or something simple like that.”
“The only way I could know. One day, shit went wrong, I lost someone I cared about. And then the next day, it was before they’d died. And then as I tried to reach them, I bounced through their life. Mostly living days I hadn’t lived with them the first time. A few times, I saw myself, and later saw myself again, watching me.”
“So what you’re saying is, in addition to being basically immortal, you’re also a time traveler.”
“Yes. Well, I wasn’t then, but I became one eventually.”
“And the chain?”
“The chain is the anchor that lets me pull myself through the river. Each link, tied to a certain time. Linked to others forged then. I can feel them hum when they’re near, so I know when I’ve gotten to.”
“And this the easy secret, is it?” Looking him dead in the eye.
“One of them. And it does give context for the rest.”
“Yeah, I suppose it makes it easier to explain things if I understand that time, a major feature of linear storytelling, won’t really apply.”
He just laughed at that.